About the Great Western Council of Optometry

Get to Know GWCO

GWCO's Mission Statement

  • Provide a common voice for our members within organized optometry
  • Facilitate communication among affiliated associations
  • Enhance professional development, and
  • Provide financial support to affiliated associations

How GWCO Got Started

The Great Western Council of Optometry (GWCO) is a non-profit association formed in 1991 to provide a common voice for members within organized optometry, facilitate communication, enhance professional development, and provide financial support to affiliated state optometric associations.

Today, GWCO is comprised of twelve member state optometry associations including; Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. A representative from each state makes up the GWCO Board of Directors. The board members volunteer countless hours throughout the year planning the annual GWCO Congress.

In order to provide financial support to GWCO member states, all after-expense revenue, raised through the support of GWCO, is given back to the states each year. Since 1997, that has meant more than $2 million dollars in non-dues revenue to member state optometric associations! 

GWCO's History

Prior to 1992, American Optometric Association (AOA) leadership had come from the southern and eastern state associations and SECO International. According to the AOA's list of past presidents, since 1960 26 leaders were from the south and east regions, the Midwest provided 18, and just 9 from the original GWCO states. In 1992, Dr. Kenji Hamada brought together state association presidents from several western states to discuss plans for a multi-state professional organization. Its primary goal was to build a national political presence that would bring recognition to the western states. The GWCO Congress was developed to provide an educational venue for GWCO state optometrists to come together and receive high-quality, multi-track optometric education, which was not always available in smaller western states. As a way to encourage participation of members and state leaders, net profits from the annual congress are returned to the GWCO states based on an attendance formula.

Although it was not a direct goal of GWCO to increase the number of AOA presidents from GWCO states, we as an organization (representing 13 western states) can advocate for our region. Ultimately, giving our member states the opportunity to have a voice in the AOA political arena. This has allowed us to increase our numbers in the volunteer structure, thereby building experience in those volunteers who might then decide to run for the board of the AOA. Because of our work, AOA leadership attends the GWCO Congress to address our group, listens to our suggestions and concerns, and interviews us for open board positions. Together we can make things happen, and by working together we have the ability to vote as a group to drive initiatives and candidates that represent our views in the AOA. By collaborating we can work for the good of optometry and provide political support to those qualified GWCO individuals who have aspirations to become a national leader.

The founders of our organization realized that it was for the good of western states to bind together for the political base it could provide. Kenji and the other leaders knew that this was good for all of us. Their unselfish vision was to include all states, small and large, and have a mechanism in place that promotes participation in forming the cornerstone of a great organization. The idea of one-state, one-vote on the board allowed all of us to equally share in the frank discussions leading GWCO forward. GWCO has continued to grow throughout the years both in attendance to our congress and politically within the AOA. The board continues to work hard to extend our growth into the future. We ask all our member states to encourage their own state members and leaders to attend the GWCO Congress in the fall ensuring the future of this organization. 

Additional Resources

Board of Directors
GWCO Member States